Strange thought this morning: Pubs are like girlfriends.
They’re all different. Some are young, and some are old. Some are small, and some are big. Some are all done up in the latest fashion, while others make no effort at all. Some are quiet, and some are noisy. Some are fun, and some are staid. Some are homely, and some are standard airport lounge. Some are well-upholstered, and some have no upholstery at all. Some decorate their walls with paintings and posters and antique farming implements, and some wear little such decoration at all. Some are glad to see you, and some aren’t.
Maybe you like them all, but you usually get to prefer one of them more than the rest. And so you stay faithful to it… until one day maybe you chance upon a beautiful little bar that you never noticed before, and it steals your heart away.
And when pubs open, it’s like there’s a new girl in town. And when they close, it’s like an old girlfriend just left.
And the introduction of a smoking ban is like losing a girlfriend. In fact, it’s much worse: it’s like losing all your girlfriends on the same day. It’s like they all tell you on the same day that It’s Over, and I’ve Got Someone New. And he doesn’t smoke like you do. And he washes his hair every day. But We Can Still Be Friends, can’t we? Coz it’ll be your fault if we aren’t friends.
I always used to grieve for months whenever I lost a girlfriend.
And back when I was in Devon, I grieved for months after the UK smoking ban was imposed. It left a hole in my life.
And I think it must have been the same for a lot of smokers. And for women too, because for the girls pubs are probably like boyfriends. They provided a reason to get dressed up and put on the war paint.
So I think there were a lot of grieving smokers in England on 1 July 2007.
I think it’s probably like that everywhere, whenever smoking gets banned. It’s heartbreak.
They say that One Day You’ll Find Someone New. But in the case of pubs I don’t see it happening. They used to all be different. But now they’re all the dreary uniform same.
Good analogy, Frank. I do think that regular pub-goers form a very strong personal attachment to their chosen “local” which – like the girlfriend/boyfriend scenario – is often very hard to explain. Why, for example, does someone choose to drink regularly in a tatty little Victorian-built boozer on one street when just down another street there might be a much smarter, newly-refurbished one? Or vice-versa: why go to a brand-new sparkly place when there’s a lovely little old-style one just up the road? It’s a bit like supporters of one or another football team. If you ever ask a supporter of any one team exactly why they support that particular one, they often can’t really give you one, definitive reason. It isn’t anything as straightforward as “it’s my nearest big club” or “my brother got a trial there when he was younger.” The most common answer you’ll get is “I dunno. I just do.” It’s a sort of instinctive thing, and that makes it very important. And I think that it’s a bit the same with pubs. My OH was a set-your-clock-by-him, early-doors regular at our local pub, just up the road. It wasn’t just that it was the closest, it certainly wasn’t the nicest, he didn’t particularly like the landlord and landlady, it didn’t sell the best (or cheapest) beer, and although he had a good group of friends who he regularly saw there, that was a consequence of his going there, rather than the reason he first started going, and could easily have occurred in any one of the other pubs in the area. So why that one? Who knows? He certainly didn’t! Then, of course, the effects of the smoking ban bit hard (it was almost entirely wet-led) and three years after the ban the shutters went up, and now it’s been converted into new houses and a couple of flats. He was obliged to find a new local, which he did. His new local isn’t the closest, nor – again – is it the nicest. Indeed there’s actually a rather nicer one just a little further along (currently struggling, which is a shame). But he chose this one. Why? Who knows? A “regular’s” choice of pub, like love, is a mysterious thing …
His little group of regular friends from his old haunt has scattered now. I guess one of the vulnerabilities of having a friendship group which is based on the whole “drop in and see who’s in the pub” -type culture is that, much like wildlife, it is extremely susceptible to loss of habitat. Take the place away and the friendship group goes with it. Unlike what the antis might like us to believe, real pub culture doesn’t depend on the concept of “ringing each other to arrange to meet up for a drink.” That might be how they do it, but real pub regulars just, well, turn up. It’s a much more casual and unorganised arrangement. Which was, of course, part of its charm. One or two of the group from his old pub now frequent the same “new local” as my OH, although not so often; others have gone to other pubs; most simply don’t go out at all and are rarely seen these days. But he, and many of his old “gang” from the first pub, when they bump into each other – usually by accident – still speak about its closure in regretful tones. It wasn’t the most salubrious of joints, that’s for sure, but it was theirs and all of them still refer to the times they had there and how much they miss seeing their old group on a regular basis. Even I, as a much-less-frequent visitor to the establishment, still feel a twang of nostalgic sadness every time I walk past those squeaky-clean, faceless, characterless new houses staring back at me from where “the local” used to be.
So yes, you can find a “new love” in the form of a new pub and a new group of friends, but it’s probably true to say that – to continue the “love” analogy – there’ll always be a little corner of one’s heart which grieves for the loss of one’s first, chosen love. And that’s something that anti-smokers, generally not being real “pub regular” types, will never be able to understand. Maybe the harsh truth is that anti-smokers are simply incapable of loving anything or anybody, ever, full stop. So the concept of loving anything as nebulous as “a pub group,” or one’s “pub friends” is something that they simply wouldn’t be able to comprehend.
real pub regulars just, well, turn up. It’s a much more casual and unorganised arrangement.
Exactly. I don’t plan to go to pubs. I just show up.
And I’ve always had relationships with pubs in ways that I never have with shops like butchers and bakers, even though I frequent them just as often. But I don’t go to chemists or shoe shops because I want to spend time there. But I do want to spend time in pubs.
I suspect that for the antis a pub is just another shop, selling drinks just like butchers sell meat or bakers sell bread. And they don’t see why they have to put up with smoke and music and conversation, when all they want is to buy a drink.
Well put and you have expressed my own sentiments exactly.
But, to steal a metaphor from your article, when the ‘wildlife’ in the village where I live lost its ‘habitat’ (our pubs) because of the smoking ban we ended by creating our own suitable habitat.
It all began when I was amongst a group of smokers outside of what was once our local, huddled against a bitter wind blowing straight up the English Channel, when a chance remark sparked the idea of we smokers having our own, legal place to enjoy ourselves and each other’s company.
A couple of weeks later, again during a fag-break outside the pub, one person reminded us of this idea and said that a local farmer had what was either a very large shed or a very small barn available for us to use if we so wished. That weekend four of us went to check out the place. It is a sturdy wood-framed corrugated iron-clad building originally used to house some esoteric agricultural equipment. Most importantly there was a small store-cum-office attached with a legal toilet and a legal electrical consumer unit.
We built our own bar, installed a rocket furnace (google it, I had to!) and gradually installed all sorts of oddments which might be called furnishings, a couple of sofas, some easy-chairs and some side-tables. A variety of so-called bar-stools arrived over time and a second-hand CD player turned up. Two rather rusty fridges were offered by one of the group, others group members then sanded them down and re-sprayed then with Hammerite gloss white. Almost as good as new they looked, and both were very functional.
We constructed our own habitat and it is very popular. To avoid legal hassles we all take our own drinks along and we have not called ourselves a club or anything like that, we are just a group of friends meeting in a private place. Yes, we have had a visit from some Council-appointed prod-nose but she could find nothing untoward.
Now my wife and I can go fthere for a drink and a fag and to see who is there, just like our favourite pub used to be.
There’s so much more to tell about ‘our’ place, like the very elderly who come along for the companionship, about how, on a wet Tuesday night, the then-landlord of the Crown pub was brought along and said that there were more people present that evening than had been in his pub all week-end.
I wrote about our place over at Dick Puddlecote’s place a year or two ago and we are still going strong.
OT: I’m not a fan of golf, but I found out it’s apparently legendary golfer John Daly’s 50th birthday, so I thought I’d commemorate a fellow smoker with an article from September of last year:
John Daly’s ‘all right’ because he just smokes 2 packs of cigarettes a day, not 3
Excellent article, Frank. It is like an old girlfriend who has DIED.
Or an old girlfriend who became a nun.
I remember getting into fight in my old pub with an old girlfriend, so I always see that pub like a girlfriend.
Anyway the nonsense of me shagging her sister never got as far as the dirty deed so I’m not guilty m’lud.
Brilliant piece Frank. The smoking ban decimated my way of life. Pubs in my area have died. I used to love going to the pub. They were invariably very busy and populated by very interesting people all of whom liked a drink, and most smoked. Conversation was stimulating. It was great to see the huge variety of cigarette brands and different aromatic pipe tobaccos and cigars smoked. I always left feeling great – every night ! Now i go once a week for my real ale fix. The pubs are usually mostly empty, the bar staff bored, or full of uncontrolled kids. I am never stimulated by the conversation because there is rarely anyone to talk to. Depressing isn’t it ?
Thank you very much Deborah Arnott, ASH, sanctimonious doctors, unelected pressure groups, and all the other freaks who made it this way and never ever went to the pub themselves.
Deborah Arnott, Queen of the ASHholes.
Arnott is just a functionary. She is like the Commandant of a small, Nazi concentration camp. She obeys orders from above and her skill is to use press releases to get publicity for her superiors. That is what she is for. In fact, that is what ASH exists for – to produce headlines in newspapers. THAT IS ALL. ASH is a skeleton. It does not have the staff or the skill to originate research. It never has had,